Could you run a marathon?
Thats 26.2 miles of grit and determination that would be enough to challenge even the most dedicated of athletes. But for some that's not enough...
What about if you had to cycle 112 miles before that marathon?
Thats around the distance between London and Calais, France. Does this sound like a challenge yet?
How about if you had to swim 2.4 miles as a warm up to that cycle… in open water.
This is the pinnacle of athletic ability.
It's endurance on a whole new level.
Welcome to the world of IRONMAN triathlons.
Today we speak with Team GB & age group champion triathlete, multiple Ironman 70.3 competitor, and all around great guy, Tom Upfold. He'll give us his top 5 tips for beginners, tell us about his experiences and races, and let you know what what he wishes he'd known when he started out in multisport athletics.
OF: Hey Tom, thanks for taking the time to speak with us, tell us a little about yourself.
TU: My name is Tom Upfold, I'm 32 from Surrey, England. I'm a full time self employed hairstylist and I have a real passion for multi sport athletics.
OF: How long have you been doing triathlons?
TU: I first took part in my first triathlon on May 29th 2016. It was the Guildford sprint distance triathlon.
OF: Wow, so you've only been competing for a year. What inspired you to get into triathlons?
TU: I had no real inspiration to get involved in triathlon, it was more a suggestion from my family as I was athletic and looking for a new challenge.
OF: Thats some challenge to take on! How often do you have to train?
TU: Training length really depends on the time of year but I would say between 12-18+hrs a week during race season.
OF: You must have to eat like a horse! What's your diet like to sustain all that work output?
TU: One of the real keys to success in multi sport is diet, and to achieve your goals you really need to focus on keeping you diet clean and healthy. I focus on whole foods with 55-65% of my diet based around carbohydrates. Hydration is another key factor to my successes in both training and racing.
OF: With all that training and eating you must spend your life in the kitchen or on the road, and you have a full time job! What's it like trying to fit all that around your work and social life?
TU: It can be very hard to find the hours in the day to fit in work, training and a social life so I often find that you have to make real sacrifices to achieve your goals. I find the social side is the part that suffers most, but during the off season I make it a priority. I generally start my day at 4.30am and find myself in bed by 8.30-9 on most nights. If I find myself time crunched at any time I make sure the workout is done at high intensity so I can still gain from it.
OF: Multisport makes your training more varied and races 3 x harder. Which discipline did you find easiest/hardest?
TU: The easiest discipline for me is running. I have always come from a running background and I am fortunate enough to have natural pace over long distances. Swimming is by far the most difficult of the three disciplines. It is a technical sport and brute force won't make you a fast swimmer. It takes a long time to master a good swim stroke so in the off season I focus on the basics to keep me sharp.
OF: How do you tackle the challenges of swimming?
TU: Even though I said swimming is the hardest, my weaknesses are mainly on the bike. I guess it's the one discipline that I am least practiced in through the years. All athletes have limiters and the key to fixing this to do the things that you find hardest the most. That's why I spend a lot of time on the bike in the Surrey hills.
OF: Have you always been into fitness, what have you done in the past?
TU: I have always been athletic. As a boy I swam competitively at club level, played team sports and learned martial arts. It wasn't until I left school that I really found my love for running. I have always loved competing against the clock and I guess that's what really drives me in triathlon.
OF: Tell us about your first triathlon experience.
TU: My first triathlon is still one of the best experiences to date. It was a 500m pool swim, 20km on the bike and a 3.5 trail run in Guildford, Surrey. I had trained through the winter so I felt up to the challenge but I really didn't know what to expect. I'm pretty sure I made every mistake a triathlete could make but I loved every second of it, and I came 9th so I was really happy.
OF: Ninth in your first race, thats impressive! You've done a lot since then, what has been your greatest achievement so far?
TU: My greatest achievement to date was winning my age group at the middle distance national championships this year.
OF: Tell us about a time you’ve had to dig deep/what has been your toughest moment?
TU: I dig deep in every race. When I know I'm 5km from the end I know I have to give it my all but my toughest moments are always when injury strikes. It can really knock your confidence and it takes real mental toughness to hold off your urges to test the injury by training on it.
OF: What are you top 5 tips for beginners to multi sport athletics?
1/ Train hard then recover. You can't go at 100% all the time. The body has to heal to make improvements so if you do a hard session, then make the next one in that discipline easy if you feel fatigued. Listen to your body, when it's tired it tells you so try not to ignore it. Also take 1 out of every 4 as an easy week.
2/Practice transition. As a beginner most of the mistakes you will make will be in here. Transition is the 4th discipline in triathlon and people forget that it all adds to your total time. Practice makes it smooth and fast, so for example, every time you get out the lake after an open water swim session, strip that wetsuit off as fast as you can.
3/Plan and test race nutrition. There are many different sports nutrition products on the market and it can be hard to choose. The best way is to test them and see what works for you. Do this in training because the last thing you want is to have gastrointestinal problems during a race.
4/Pace yourself. If you go out of the gun like a bat out of hell then you will find yourself with a mountain to climb later. Always try to race each discipline as the first half slower the the last half. Practice this in training.
5/Eat smart. Make sure you are eating enough of the right things to fuel your training and racing. If you are not fuelling the right way then you will never perform the the best of your ability.
OF: What 3 things do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?
1/ I wish I'd known that recovery is key. I have foam rollers, massage balls and a sports masseuse named Jay that all help me to keep injury free. Prevention is far better than cure so I massage my legs myself when ever I get a chance and I get the professional to do it at least once a month.
2/ I wish I knew that caffeine makes my nerves bad and that taking it 20 mins before the race was the best thing for me. It took till recently to discover this.
3/ I wish I'd known how expensive triathlon was going to be. In the first years you can really spend a lot of money on kit and racing. The good news is that the spending does slow down but be prepared to spend as your obsession grows.
OF: With it being potentially expensive, what top five things would you suggest all beginner triathletes invest in?
TU: The right running trainers for you, as in from a proper running shop with a proper gait analysis. A Race belt, foam roller and massage ball, triathlon specific training watch, swim tools (pull bouy, kick board, hand paddles)
OF: Why do you see these as the best investments?
TU: Running is the hardest of the three disciplines on your body so keeping yourself injury free is essential. Running with the right trainers will help you to move more comfortably and efficiently.
A Race belt stops you jamming safety pins into yourself as you awkwardly try to attach your race number on the front and back of your race wear as you nervously await the start of a race.
Massage ball and foam roller are essential as I mentioned before. Recovery is key to a successful training schedule.
Triathlon specific watches give you endless data that can help you to train more efficiently by using heart rate, pace and power zones. They also count the lengths that you swim in the pool, which is a plus side if you are forgetful like myself.
Swimming with the correct technique will make you a strong swimmer and having the tools to practice those techniques are important for both novices and elite athletes. I spend a large part of the off season focusing on better swimming technique.
OF: What’s your next goal?
TU: My next goal is to make the Ironman 70.3 world championships. I hope to do this when I race with my brother for the first time next year.
OF: Tom, where can people find you on social media?
TU: You can find me on instagram @tomupfold
OF: Thanks for your time and insight Tom, no doubt we’ll check in again to see how training and competitions are going.